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Global Carbon Emissions Reached Record High in 2018

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Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high in 2018, the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) found. Emissions rose 1.7 percent to reach a historic 33.1 gigatons (Gt) of carbon dioxide. It was the highest rate of emissions growth since 2013 and 70 percent higher than the average increase since 2010.


The record emissions were caused by increasing energy demand due partly to a growing economy. Ironically, climate change also played a role in sending more global warming gasses into the atmosphere. That is because nearly a fifth of the increased energy demand was driven by extreme cold and hot temperatures around the world that led people to rely more on heating and cooling systems.

"It seems like a vicious cycle," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told The Financial Times. "Heating and cooling are one of the biggest drivers of energy demand growth."

Overall, energy consumption increased by 2.3 percent, almost two times the average growth rate since 2010. While renewable energy grew, it did not grow fast enough to meet the increased demand. Nearly 70 percent of the growth was met by fossil fuels.

"[D]espite major growth in renewables, global emissions are still rising, demonstrating once again that more urgent action is needed on all fronts," Birol said, according to Reuters.


One of the most alarming findings was the persistent use of coal, the report found:

In fact, coal-fired power plants were the single largest contributor to the growth in emissions observed in 2018, with an increase of 2.9%, or 280 Mt, compared with 2017 levels, exceeding 10 Gt for the first time.

Further, the IEA calculated the contribution of fossil fuels to global temperature increases for the first time and found that coal had been responsible for more than 0.3 degrees Celsius of the one degree Celsius rise in global temperatures since pre-industrial times, making it the fuel that has most contributed to global warming.


"We are in deep trouble," Stanford University Earth System Science Prof. Rob Jackson told The Washington Post of the report. "The climate consequences are catastrophic. I don't use any word like that very often. But we are headed for disaster, and nobody seems to be able to slow things down."

The rise in coal use was mostly driven by newer coal plants in Asia. These plants average 12 years old compared to a typical life-span for coal plants of 40 years. However, the U.S. saw the greatest increase in demand for oil and natural gas compared to the rest of the world.

In general, the U.S., China and India were the leaders both in terms of energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions. The three countries accounted for almost 70 percent of the increased energy demand and contributed 85 percent to the rise in emissions. India's emissions rose by 4.8 percent and China's by 2.5 percent. In the U.S. emissions rose by 3.1 percent despite decreasing the year before. Emissions fell in Germany, Japan, Mexico, France and the United Kingdom.

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